Two Mothers

I stare at the photo, breath caught in my lungs.

It’s my daughter in 20 years staring back at me.

Same beautiful eyes and wide smile.

Same long and lean body; so different from my own.

The light and laughter there makes me want to reach out and pull her from the photo.

I dream that night of meeting her.

We smile and reach out for each other; familiar despite having never met.

I wake up still feeling her slender back under my hands.

It is the little things that make me wince; that dig a well of grief in the middle of my joy at finding her.

The way she describes drinking olive juice from a jar and the look in my daughter’s eyes when I tell her, the only one in our family who eats olives.

The way she loves so many of the same things my daughters do.  Banana muffins, horses, music and nature.

The way she tenderly recounts sewing in little waistbands and what my children…or hers…or ours…were like as babies and toddlers.

I am unprepared for this grief.

This abrupt encounter with so much gain…and so much loss.

I am unsure how to hold my joy in my hands…while looking down and realizing it all came at her expense.

How do I justify all I have when I know the tables could have so easily been turned.

It is beautiful,

and shattering.

I look at them differently as they smile into my eyes,

seek out my affection,

come running to me with their latest drawings, stories and ideas.

I know as they bring me their caterpillars and create ant homes and worm habitats that she would be so much more delighted than I am right now.

I think of her finding a huge caterpillar in her garden, or her stories of helping turtles safely cross the road.

I wish she were here to enjoy their dirty faces grinning cheekily at me.

I tread unsteadily on the fence line of guilt and gratitude,

haunted by what she might do and say were she here.

All her words have been laden with grace and dignity and humility.

I have her permission to love without guilt, yet that in itself speaks a thousand words and almost makes it more difficult.

I feel like a heroine and a traitor.

I wonder at the world.

The world that separates mother and child,

that pulls unsuspecting teens into spirals of addiction and compromise with no warning of all they have to lose.

The world that offers so much pain and loss and heartache to one,

while another trips almost effortlessly through and lands in so much joy and blessing.

I reach out for more of her, knowing that as I learn her favourite colours, TV shows, hobbies, fears, regrets and joys…I am putting together the pieces of my children.

I scroll through her photos, feeling the weight of loss as I see family and friends that were meant to be part of my children’s lives…but aren’t.

It’s not that there’s a hole…it’s just that I know this was meant to be theirs.

We schedule chat sessions and eventually, our first meeting.

She’s even taller than I imagined and so graceful as she slides into the seat across from me, dressed in a pretty aqua top…my daughter’s favourite colour.

We stumble awkwardly yet enjoyably through a dinner conversation…most of which I cannot remember later for the butterflies in my stomach.

My husband bridges the gap between us…two mothers…and I’m grateful for his casual conversation.

I leave with anticlimactic memories and a picture of the two of us, arms slung around each other, smiling side by side.

I know it’ll be an important image for my daughters as they grow into this relationship…the picture of what was and what is simultaneously, tethering them to reality.

We fall into patterns of texting and chatting online, slowly letting in a new normal.

I casually laugh about a conversation we had, a photo she sent or a story she shared.

My daughters get used to it; their two mothers being acquaintances and then slowly…friends.

I love the way I think of her randomly, or can send off a text whenever I want.

I love the way I can share those special moments with her and know that she’ll care…because she’s a mother.

I love the way I can see more and more clearly the similarities between mother and daughters, and the shy adoration I see in their eyes when I notice them and comment.

I love the letters that get sent off in the mail with lovingly braided bracelets tucked inside.

I love the forging of our lives.

Loving my daughters’ birth mother is loving them.

They reflect so much of what I say and project about her onto themselves.

She is and always will be a part of them…and therefore a part of us.

I both love and hurt watching them reach out in fragile innocence for the affirmation she offers.

It is humbling to watch them flower beneath her tender care in ways that I can’t provide.

I see clearly the holes I cannot fill, and I’m grateful she is there and willing to fill those.

I imagine she feels the same, and once again this is one thing we share.

Two mothers.

I know so many people don’t have this story.

They don’t have this happy ending.

But I’m so grateful for this woman we call Mom.

Her integrity, humility, determination and beauty has added depth and colour to our adoption story that we never could have imagined.

Two mothers.

-AF

“A child born to another woman calls me mom.  The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me.”

-Jody Landers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cry It Out?

 

IMG_9407-1I remember the first time I cared for an infant.

As a “new mom” to our first foster child, a baby, I was reporting in detail every little quirk in his sleeping habits to our social worker.  What sticks out in my mind is her kind eyes looking at me with a hint of amusement as she said gently, “You know you may eventually just need to let him cry it out!”

Fast forward four years and I’m dragging myself out of bed to go comfort my five month old for the fourth time in one night.

Not hungry.

No fever or signs of pain.

No diaper change needed.

Just wanting to be snuggled and preferably offered a breast for extra comfort!

As much as I absolutely adore
my baby, and have learned sometimes it’s not worth the battle, sleep is something I know I need and this particular night I knew I needed to put on my big girl pants and get him back to sleep without my help.  This was becoming a pattern.

So…

After attempts to rock him, cuddle him and sing him back to sleep I tucked him back in his crib, turned on the singing seahorse and stood beside his crib watching him cry in the warm glow of the night light.  I thought of leaving, but couldn’t bear to leave the room and instead propped my head on the rail inches from him and tried to calm him with my whispered words of comfort.

His poor little eyes filled with big tears and he cried his little heart out.  He’d never experienced anything like this before!  Being such a content little guy, at the slightest whimper he is used to being scooped up.  I thought to myself that this was probably one of the first big moments of stress in his life!

He cried and cried, big shuddering sobs.

Just when I’d think he was almost calm again, he’d start all over again.

At these moments it is really unfortunate to be an adoptive parent who has spent the last three years focusing on attachment, brain development and healing kids from trauma.  As I stroked his cheeks and listened to his mournful cries my heart broke and I felt my chest tighten with anxiety.

All the stories I’d read of babies left screaming for hours on end and the resulting brain trauma flew through my mind.  I was sure he was going to think I was abandoning him and all I could picture was the diagram of the brain in attachment classes with the prefontal cortex all lit up in bright red!

What kind of mother just stands there and lets her child cry?!

At the same time the logical side of me knew this was an age old, tried-and-true method that most mothers use at some point with most babies.  I also knew that tomorrow would not be forgiving of me after a night of fitful, interrupted sleep.  Thirty minutes, an hour, forty-five minutes, or two hours at a time is not a way to feel rested and energetic the next morning!  I would still have to get up and take care of my baby.  I would still need to home school my daughter.  I would still need to get to the grocery store with my two children and do the shopping.  I would still need to get to the appointments and make dinner for my family.  I would still need to do the laundry so my girls had clean clothes for the weekend.  Life would still be there, and I would be a much better mother with a little more sleep.

Sigh.

This pattern needed to stop.

I realize there are all kinds of ideas surrounding babies and sleep.

Sleep schedules.

Sleep training.

Sleep cycles.

But every baby is different, and every mother is different.

At the end of the day you have to find whatever works for you.

After almost 45 minutes of on and off, broken-hearted crying my baby gripped the finger I offered and drifted off to sleep, still sniffling as his tears dried on his pink cheeks.

The funny thing is, as I felt his body relax and go off to blissful dreamland,

instead of heading back to my bed,

I stayed.

I stayed and stroked his soft head.

I whispered to him all my dreams for him,

My prayers for him,

And my apologies for being only mortal when I wish to be so much more.

My arms ached to hold him,

now still and quiet in sleep.

I desperately wanted to cuddle him close and let him feel my skin against his.

I wanted him to know just how very much he is adored.

But of course I couldn’t.

I told my husband later that the worst part was not watching him cry and have his eyes beg mine pleadingly, though that was torturous.

No.

The worst part was that eventually he was okay.

Without me.

Eventually he gave up.

And that broke me.

I don’t know if I’ll do it again.

I probably should, and probably will.

It really does work most times from what I hear.

But I hate it.

I’m designed to be his everything, and that is what I thrive on.

Interrupted nights,

frustrated minutes pacing the floor,

those are really just par for the course.

I’m a mother, after all.

 

AF

 

I Am Loved

I look up and there she is.

Positioned just like me on the couch, at my side with pen in hand, pretending to do Sudoku like Mommy as she makes little markings and scribblings in her Activity Book.

She wants to be just like me.

I am so blessed.

I look up and there she is.

Smiling at me with those sparkling brown eyes…no filter, no block.  I’m looking straight into her soul and she trusts me implicitly with all that is there.

I am her everything.

I am so blessed.

I fall down exhausted and disgruntled at the end of a long, hot day.  I close my eyes and soon I hear footsteps pattering toward my place on the couch.  I sigh inwardly, wishing for a moment alone and expecting her constant chatter to start any minute.  Instead I feel gentle hands caress my hair and rub my back…soothing, loving, tender little motions.  A soft kiss lands on my cheek and a blanket falls gently on my shoulders.  I smile and stay very still.

She adores me.

I am so blessed.

I open my eyes after a nap and see two little girl bodies huddled at my kitchen sink before my pile of dirty dishes.  I had left them there to do later.  The dishwasher was full and it was too hot to stand with my hands in hot, soapy water.  But there they are and I hear;

“We should do these dishes for Mommy ’cause she’s really tired and she had a rough day!”

“She did?”

“Well yeah, it was really hot and I usually get frustrated when it’s so hot so she probably does too!”

“Oh!  Okay.”

And there they are; scrubbing, brushing, rinsing and drying.  One too small to reach the sink so she stands on a stool by her big sister’s side.

They are loving me with every stroke of that brush.

I am so blessed.

I roll over in bed at the sound of the door as he creeps in to kiss me goodbye.  There’s a glass of chocolate milk in his hands.  He smiles at me and my heart fills up in an instant.  I savor his kiss, his unshaven face against mine, the firm muscles of his back under my hands and the chocolate milk, filling my stomach so I won’t be nauseous later.

I am the love of his life.

He’d do anything for me.

I am so blessed.

Every time I am caught in these moments I feel so incredibly humbled.  I am far from the perfect…or even ideal wife or mother.  I fail miserably on a daily basis.  They hear my sharp tones, they see my angry eyes, they feel my rough hands pushing them away.  They watch me choose myself over them so many times.

Yet they love me so unconditionally and forgive me so completely, even when I am so undeserving.

In their eyes, their touch, their voices of love I see glimpses of my Heavenly Father.

A love that covers a multitude of wrongdoings and places them as far as the east is from the west.

A grace that washes me clean and keeps no record of my wrongs.

They offer me hope for my humanity.

Thank you for loving me.

I love you more than life itself.

XOXO

AF